PROULX: Postcard from Top Chef finale
Secrets Resort & Spa in Akumal in Mexico was the site of the Top Chef finale - and 24 Hours was there! SECRETS RESORT
SHAUN PROULX/ 24 HOURS
When Top Chef: Charleston host Padma Lakshmi crowned Top Chef: Seattle runner-up Brooke Williamson winner of the hit series'14th season last month, it was a dramatic finale to a fierce kitchen food fight that began with the pitting of eight new contestants against eight returning chefs. "I feel validated," said Williamson.
But the foodie didn't declare Williamson the latest greatest Top Chef in any old location (no offense, Napa). This season, the Emmy-nominated series dialed up the volume boldly, squaring Williamson against Shirley Chung at Secrets Resort & Spa in Akumal, deep within the sultry glamour of Mexico's Riviera Maya.
A tucked-away gem in the folio of the Secrets/Dreams "Unlimited Luxury" resorts, Secrets Akumal overlooks the sun-soaked glittering waters and pristine beach the destination is internationally renowned for. (Akumal in Mayan means "place of the turtle" and green sea turtles live protected at the foot of the resort, making for above-par snorkeling - but no turtle soup served to Lakshmi.)
Top Chef used Secrets Akumal to dial up their finale, but Secret Akumal's secret to their dial-up prowess is knowing how to dial down, keenly understanding that less is always more. This not only refers to their no-children policy, but also to an imaginatively understated elegance threading through a resort made exclusive by virtue of having just over 400 rooms. Each one is over-sized, offering tropic elegance by day with exact doses of confident fuchsia and orange accents, but dreamy by night with dark woods and metals; transportive, moving video art plays sepia-toned on one wall to lullaby house music. There is a pillow menu. A curtained-off deep circle tub, large enough to fit three men (I researched), is a kingly crown jewel in Secret's Akumal's spa-like bathrooms, a self-care space larger than some city studio apartments. For the ultimate in privacy while holidaying, don't leave your room, just step from suite's edge into your own private pool as 24-hour room service is discretely delivered into a secret hollow in your wall accessed by a hidden door. You really can have it all, yet see no one, should you fancy.
Secrets Akumal is also for people who are already truly fun, so therefore, no dreadful forced fun is implemented: no La Bamba blasting at precisely 4 p.m. every day, no beleaguered staff tearing you from Star magazine into one of their three pools to play their version of that horrendous Wipeout show, drunken strangers hootin' and hollerin' as you make a fool of yourself. Should you wish to make new friends at Secrets Akumal, that's easy though: just pull up a bar stool - or rather a bar swing, hanging from thick ropes that stretch up high into the trees - and sway back and forth while you wait for your cocktail.
If you have enough friends, the resort's quiet pool, steps from their 18,000 square foot Secrets Spa by Pavonia, is the place to bliss out with others yet be left alone. Spa voices and spa beats are the only things you'll hear, besides chirping birds and a Secrets staffer quietly refilling your top-shelf cocktail and bringing you the kind of casual lunch Lakshmi would approve of.
For dinner, head down to The Cellar, an exclusive Secret's Akumal experience where their own top chef, Executive Chef Jose Mena creates dazzling feasts using local ingredients on offer (like Top Chef winner Williamson wisely chose to use): octopus, oysters, radish and pork, serving them to guests at the only table in their wine cellar - a true once-in-a-lifetime dining experience to never forget. Other cuisines to try at the many restaurants that dot Secrets Akumal include seafood, and Mexican, of course, as well as French, pan-Asian, and Italian.
Really, one could truly understand if Chefs Williamson or Chung had accidentally self-amputated a finger, falling victim to all the glorious distractions they were placed into - or one could empathize even if one of them threw in their apron in favour of a sexy Secrets swim-up bar instead.
Such are the champagne problems that abound at Secrets Akumal or perhaps better put: tequila troubles (Don Julio, of course). Either way, Secrets Akumal is a secret best spread widely, especially given how notoriously slow our sunny days have been to finally start, up here in the Great White North.
The Shaun Proulx Show airs on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167. He's the publisher of TheGayGuideNetwork.com. Also visit his website at: ShaunProulx.com.